A Book Of American Martyrs

A Book Of American Martyrs by Joyce Carol Oates
Published by Fourth Estate
Published 7 February 2017
768 pages

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Buy the book: UK (affiliate’s link)

Buy the book: USA

I read this for 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge. The category is ‘a book that’s published in 2017’   


Two families. Two faces of America. An act of violence with far-reaching consequences.

Gus Voorhees is a pioneer in the advancement of women’s reproductive rights and a controversial abortion provider in the American Midwest. One morning as he arrives at his clinic, he is ambushed by a hardline Christian, Luther Dunphy, and shot dead.

The killing leaves in its wake two fatherless families: the Voorheeses, who are affluent, highly educated, secular and pro-choice, and the Dunphys, their opposite on all counts.

When the daughters of the two families, Naomi Voorhees and Dawn Dunphy, glimpse each other at the trial of Luther Dunphy, their initial response is mutual hatred. But their lives are tangled together forever by what has happened, and throughout the years to come and the events that follow, neither can quite forget the other.

A heart-rending reckoning with some of the most incendiary issues that divide us in our troubled times – religious extremism; abortion; gun violence; capital punishment – this is a novel Joyce Carol Oates was born to write. To read it is to encounter the full spectrum of humanity – its ugliness, misery, beauty and hope.


Only say the world and my soul shall be healed.


I’m crying as I write this review, having read the last sentence of JCO latest novel. It’s safe to say I enjoyed it then. I don’t cry over books that don’t speak to me. A Book of American Martyrs is one JCO’s best novels. I loved it. The book is a weighty tome even in digital form. It’s been years since I read a thick novel in just a few days. I didn’t want to stop reading and had to force myself to put it aside. A Book of American Martyrs deals with big issues; abortion, grief, loss, death and the impact of murder. It’s the abortion issue that makes A Book of American Martyrs so relevant. Until I read this I had no idea how contentious the issue of abortion is in America. Naïve, of me, I guess, but would I know when I’ve never been to America and am not a history buff? My own opinions about abortion are complicated and private and I won’t share them suffice to say I felt empathy and sympathy for both Gus Voorheeses and his murderer. A Book of American Martyrs spoke to me and I loved every word. This is the kind of book that makes me glad I’m such a book nerd. The writing is spot-on as can only be expected from JCO when she’s going full-throttle. I also loved the character development and how well I felt I knew everyone. If you only read one book this year read A Book of American Martyrs.




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